- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Frederick Arthur Broadley
- Location of story:
- Englan and Abroad
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 01 October 2005
After a few days another ship arrived in the dock it was Miss America, it was America’s best liner and it was fully armed, although America was not yet in the war. The ship was loaded to capacity with British troops, prayers were being said for us by every religious group as we left the dock. We were on the way to assist as conditions were becoming desperate at Singapore, as we approached the Malayan Straits the Japanese fighters saw us and the bombardment was terrific but we arrived in Singapore. These fighters and bombers did not allow us to form into fighting units, we were being skittled as we disembarked and every man was fighting for himself. Don’t ask me how I did it but somehow I eventually boarded a small boat that got out of the harbour I even gave an Embassy official help to get aboard. The clever chap that I am I even found my way back to Bombay without being taken prisoner as so many others were.
MONEY TO THROW AWAY
I have another small item worth enlarging upon. During the struggle on return to India I was on board helping the crew with some job of work, when the Embassy official to whom I had given assistance, came along. He could do nothing but give thanks, without my help he would have been taken prisoner or shot, so he said. He handed me stacks of hundred dollar Singalese bills, I had no kit bag or haversack so what did I do with them? Anyway, would there be a Singapore for us anymore. Possibly the turmoil and uncertainty of life, I don’t know, but when the man left, I threw the lot into the sea without even a second thought. Guess what, once back in Bombay, one of the first things that I saw was ‘Singalese Dollars Changed Here.’ Almost all of our unit were fortunate enough to find their way back, I could not say whether Miss America managed to stay afloat and get away. My pal Douglas got back. We all met up again and all made up the compliment of another company, the 153 Operating Company, Royal Engineers. Eventually setting sail again, I think we went down the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, our destination on this occasion was Beirut in Syria. Once there we joined Montgomery’s 8th Army that was resting.
It is essential here that I return briefly to my childhood years otherwise my next chapter will not be fully understood.
During my years with Aunt Lou, the year 1926 was a general miners strike and considerable hardship was involved. It was decided that I was to return to the family seat at Burton on Trent for this period amongst all my other Uncles and Aunts. I would have been about 9yrs of age. One of the other Aunts had a husband who was a little eccentric to say the least, he was the type of person who always laughed at his own jokes. I did enjoy swimming and Burton on Trent did boast a very good swimming pool. Uncle Les decided he would take me swimming, when we arrived, the pool was taken for a session by the Police but somehow Uncle Les got us allowed in. This was my first time and I was afraid of the water and would not get in. that was soon sorted, two of the policemen (with Uncle Les’s approval) gave me a ‘leg and a wing’ and I was in. Believe it or not, I took like a duck to water, it was great fun and after several more visits I became a fair swimmer, so much so that (not having money) I often swam in the river at what is called Draclow Deeps. When the strike was over I returned to Aunt Lou, and Coalville also had a swimming pool. Throughout the rest of my youth I did enjoy this pastime and made a few shillings here and there by diving and retrieving coins as they were thrown in. Having pointed out that I was a fair swimmer and why, we can return to the days of the 8th army.
We are on the outskirts of Beirut resting. Each morning up at 6am, a 10 mile run, then everyone must go into the sea. The majority could swim, the water was very tempting but unfortunately the currents were very strong, so easy to swim and then drift out. It was found essential that we form our own lifeguard and I was a volunteer. We obtain a rope, two men act as anchor and when a cry for help is received I swim with the rope as quickly as possible, then the anchormen pull me back to shore. Every day arms were raised in the air and I knowingly saved six from their difficulties. There were, at different points along the beach, different lifeguards.
We were also allowed to request passes for visits into Beirut but were not allowed to carry arms. Douglas and I decided to get a pass and we were in Beirut at the entrance to a very large square. It was a beautiful sunny day but we realised that at the far end of the square was some form of disturbance and suddenly hundreds of white robed figures with red hats converged on the square. Each one with his leather belt removed and swinging it above his head (buckle end out), anyone in khaki was receiving these buckles and across the face they could make a considerable mess. Fortunately for a number of us, in this square was situated a Salvation Army canteen, that was the reason for our visit in the first place. Douglas and I galloped over and up the steps and inside as quickly as possible, up another flight of stairs and out onto a balcony, wondering what it was all about. The square was almost half full already and what we saw next really astounded us. Right in the centre stood a large Scots Officer in dress uniform, complete with kilt and sword. He stood still, legs apart and drew his sword swinging it slowly above his head, the steel of the blade glistening in the Sun.. From our vantage point above, this was a marvellous site, the white robes breaking ranks and coming together again later, but not one showing any sign of approach. My word, that man had courage (more than our I and Douglas, even had we been armed and we were the first to admit it). Later we were informed that several of the British soldiers were responsible in the first place, I don’t know how or why, but maybe it doesn’t need many guesses, after all we were living a life not as nature had intended. There were those of us who gave in to drink on the rare occasion.
Later during this short stay, resting as it was called, I was chosen as one of the two N C O’s to attend a course of commando training. The tasks that had to be performed and the team spirit that had to be brought to bear to even have a possible chance of success was unbelievable. I again did my best, performed as I was taught, but not trying to be that little bit better, unfortunately my fellow N C O did and he burst a blood vessel dying almost instantly. I had to return to my unit with the objective of training an additional team. Before very long the 153 company was to be moved again, this time to Egypt.
Stationed under canvass in the dessert and not a great distance from Cairo, we could actually see the pyramids and sphinx. On this occasion bell tents were the accommodation shared with a number of comrades, as usual we had ground sheets and two blankets (this was the issue). Everyone had settled down for the night but for some reason I could not rest, I felt as if something was moving under my ground sheet, so I asked if anyone had a candle, someone had so I asked for it to be lit. I got up and gingerly rolled my ground sheet back and there was a black scorpion underneath. You can imagine, army boots were not used for marching that night! The next day dozens of round holes were located and each one contained a scorpion, how we live and learn! It makes me shudder even to think of it today.
DROPPING IN ON MUSSOLINI’S ARCH
It was not many days before I realised why I had been given that special training, for one morning on parade and after the roll call, the colonel read out a list of names, a Captain, an N C O and 20 sappers were required for a special mission. Yes, I was the N C O, battle orders only required and they must be prepared to leave by truck before dawn. We left, arriving a short time later at an air strip somewhere quite close to Cairo. Each man, with his arms, ammunition and kit were weighed and they all proved to be within the weight limit. We were taken aboard a plane that stood nearby. It was a Douglas Dakota twin engined plane, the seats were along each side like an old fashioned tram, all the kit was placed down the centre line of the fuselage and between the seats. Shortly the plane’s crew came aboard, three of them, at their request some of the kit had to be moved about until the skipper was satisfied we were reasonably balanced. Then before very long we were off, hitting the dawn sky. We were well over the ocean and fairly high (or so I thought) (another new experience for me), I sat on the starboard side peeping through the small porthole. Oh dear! Oh no! ‘Something’s wrong with the engine my side.’ Black smoke was pouring out, no-one spoke a word for by now the smoke has become flames and then the engine stopped. A few moments later the door at the front of the plane opened one of the crew came down amongst us, he said ‘Don’t worry chaps, the skipper is taking us back.’ We did not make it back to Cairo, but we did land on a strip in the dessert with a big arch nearby. We were told that it was called Mussolini’s Arch, there were quite a few planes about, but not many looked airworthy. I noticed some with pilots still aboard but they were not alive. Everywhere was so heavily mined, each step had to be taken with extreme caution. We looked on as the engine was stripped, filters etc were removed and cleaned, whatever the trouble, it was rectified to the pilot’s satisfaction. Eventually we took off again, after several hours in the air, I saw through my porthole what appeared to be a speck in the ocean. We seemed to be circling, I hoped he didn’t intend to land on that speck in the ocean. But of course, my word, he did, and we landed gracefully, it was Malta.
MALTA THEN SICILY
We spent a couple of days in Malta, we had to get ourselves organised. Then one morning at dawn we were away again, this time by sea, by infantry landing craft. These are flat - bottomed boats on which we stood shoulder to shoulder for most of the way. Eventually we arrived at Syracuse in Sicily. I would like to point out that the infantry commandos went in first but our turn came and we waded ashore. As we went in, enemy troops had been driven back but their fighter planes did not give us much peace. The object of our exercise was to remove any remaining enemy mines, booby traps and to prepare a way in for the remainder of our company of engineers and to take control of the railways, locomotive depots etc. We met opposition but mainly from enemy aircraft and snipers. Success was ours and without the loss of life. One morning the Captain decided we should try to make it to Fort Augusta, just myself, I the N C O, and two sappers. By this time the infantry had a few small trucks ashore so the Captain commandeered one with its driver. Away we went, the Captain with his maps on his knee, but he may as well have been reading a fairy story because we were completely lost. The situation in which we found ourselves was precarious to say the least and we were behind the enemy lines. Bullets were everywhere but we got back to Syracuse and all in one piece, God must have been with us that day. The object of the company getting to Syracuse was to take over and run the railway, transport for troops, guns and ammunition. Eventually we did just that. Without our presence the battle of Catania most likely would have been less successful.
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